Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Refugees Learn Language before Heading to School Voluntary Course for Ages 16 to 18

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Refugees Learn Language before Heading to School Voluntary Course for Ages 16 to 18

Article excerpt

Byline: Alliniece T. Andino, Times-Union staff writer

The sentence on the chalkboard wasn't run-of-the-mill, as lessons go: "Mujeeb was fighting with the tiger when it ate his head."

But the students in this classroom, in the basement of First Presbyterian Church downtown, are not your run-of-the-mill students.

They are refugees learning English from a program run by Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida.

Only refugees -- not immigrants -- ages 16 to 18 living in Duval County qualify for the voluntary course, said David Ruchinski, the secondary education specialist for the social service agency.

Through the program, which started a year ago, students can learn the language first and then be enrolled into public schools. Those younger than 16 are required to be enrolled in school right away.

"The idea is to give them some chance of making it in school," Ruchinski said. "A kid who comes here who knows no English is required to take American history and biology. Of course, they're going to fail. We were setting them up for failure."

The graduation rates of active English for Speakers of Other Languages students was 24 percent from 1998-99 in Jacksonville, Ruchinski said. The rate was much lower than comparative cities. In Tampa, for example, the graduation rate was almost 70 percent, he said.

"We were really not doing an effective job in meeting the needs of these kids," Ruchinski said.

Eligible teenagers are tested by Duval County public schools for written and spoken English language skills, and their parents decide whether they are enrolled in public school or the Lutheran Social Services course. …

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